personalspaceshow: If the size of Overture is too much for you…


If the size of Overture is too much for you to wrap your head around, enjoy this smaller model, made of what appears to be a toilet plunger, a flower pot, and a paper plate. This would never be used in the actual show, so why’d we make this? You’ll see soon enough ;) 

Thoughts about the Mystery Curvy Thing

I noticed that the model has four long thingies sticking out from the crew area. They appear to correspond to Overture’s Mystery Curvy Thing (henceforth MCT):


I’ve been thinking a lot about the MCT. From the beginning I’ve suspected it involves communication with Earth, and that it needs to be out there outside the radius of the pusher plate at the back of the ship so its line of sight to Earth isn’t blocked.

That means Overture’s crew is keeping Earth lined up directly behind them, even after the relatively brief period at the start of the mission when they were accelerating. I said previously that they could reorient the ship once they were up to speed. But now I think that was wrong.

One problem with reorienting the ship is that maybe it matters what part of the structure they present to the interstellar medium. Space is mostly empty, but it’s not completely empty. Maybe there’s special shielding on the forward part of the crew-quarters donuts, such that the “bow” of the ship has to stay the bow in order for them to travel safely at 1% of the speed of light.

Or maybe it’s important to keep the (presumably radioactive) aft side of the pusher plate behind them. I assume the ship generates some kind of “bow shock” with a teardrop shape as they plow through the interstellar gas and dust; maybe it’s best for the crew if they keep the radioactive aft side of the pusher plate “downwind”, so any radiation is left behind as quickly as possible.

I also wondered how important it was for Overture to spin on its axis to provide artificial gravity. It certainly looks like it’s built for that, with those donut-shaped crew quarters. But did it have to be built that way? Could they have generated artificial gravity by designing the ship to tumble end for end, for example, with the pusher plate and crew quarters orbiting their common center of gravity?

That seems like it might cause issues in terms of those “bow shock” concerns I was talking about. But the big problem, I think, is communication.

Staying in touch with Earth is essential. How do you keep an antenna lined up to do that? If the ship were tumbling end-over-end it would be really hard. So the ship has to rotate on its axis. But even then, if the axis weren’t pointed directly at Earth, you’d have to constantly re-aim the antenna. With the axis pointed at Earth, though, you’re good. The antenna just points aft, and as the ship spins the antenna is always pointing the right way.

Which brings me back to the MCT. When I first was thinking about it as an antenna platform, I wondered why it was built so robustly. Using the docked shuttle visible in the upper right-hand corner of this image for scale, you can see that the MCT is roughly twice as wide as the shuttle’s 78-foot wingspan:


That’s huge. If the MCT is just a boom to get an antenna far enough outboard to see past the pusher plate, why make it so big?

One reason might be access. You need to maintain that communication equipment, and that means crew members need to get to it. The MCT might be shielded and pressurized, such that crew members can travel through it safely and easily. (Though they would experience extra-high g forces when they were out there. I bet they would have to reduce the ship’s rotation during antenna maintenance.)

But it wouldn’t need to be that big. There must be something else going on. And why is it curved? That’s the weirdest thing. Here it is again in the side view:


The MCT needs to hold up to the stresses of the ship’s rotation. It being curved makes that much harder from an engineering standpoint. Having it be so thick top to bottom makes that part easier – though again at the cost of having a much larger, more robust structure than you would need just to get an antenna out there far enough to see around the pusher plate.

So I’m looking at the curve, and it hits me: It’s a parabola.

The MCT isn’t a structure to hold an antenna out past the pusher plate. The MCT is the antenna.

I bet its lower surface is made of radio-reflective material. It bothered me for a minute that there’s no receiver unit visible at the focus of the antenna, out in space “aft” of the MCT, but then I realized that that actually makes sense: The crew could extend the receiver when they need it by “lowering” it on a cable from a suitable spot in the central structure, then reel it back in for safe-keeping and maintenance.

The more I learn about the thought that went into this story, the more excited I get about the parts I haven’t seen yet.

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Tags: closer..., excuse me, personal space, personal space show, world-class worldbuilding, INTERSTELLAR-class worldbuilding.

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